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February 2017

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Ghost of a Memory (Zelman Clock)

这是情书。就算删了很多段,情书也仍然是情书。对于Z大人我从来都只有情书的本事,而且还是迎风流泪的那种。
从开头到磨出成品(汗,一次写两三句,真的是磨出来的),其间一年有余。前月消息传来:尼泊尔人民终于要摆脱王室啦。不知道在这背景下女神的传统会怎么样。该不会被破四旧吧……= =|||

Disclaimer: Not mine. Don't sue.
Fandom: Black Blood Brothers
Pairing: None. Zelman-centric.
Rating: PG
Summary: Zelman Clock enters the Special Zone by way of an acquaintance he has long forgotten.
Note 1: An extremely belated birthday present for Gezi.
Note 2: Regarding the heart of the tale (the kumari tradition in Nepal), a collection of related anthropological material can be found here. Certain artistic licenses have been taken.

Ghost of a Memory
by Renata Lord


Thou hast forgotten, but the world shall end when I forget.
—Algernon Charles Swinburne, "Itylus"

*

So it hadn’t been a dream, after all.

Christmas Eve was but a few days away, and a sweet smell of holiday confectionary floated carelessly in the chilled Yokohama night air. The sixty-three year old Mrs. Hojo Taeko sat on the second floor of a trendy American coffee shop named Dean & Deluca, overlooking the subdued dark sea right outside the window next to her table.

It was there, in a moment so fortuitously arranged by fate, that she re-encountered not only the perpetual youth Zelman Clock, but also a fourteen-year-old Ekani Shakya.

*

-Spring, 1947
Kathmandu, Nepal
Durbar Square, Kumari Ghar-

Death had come to pay a visit to the goddess on cat’s paws.

She awoke from her sleep and there he was, the unannounced visitor. He had sat down on the silk pillow squarely before the kumari’s resting bed, his knees crossed in a casual pose.

For a long while, they only eyed each other with a mixture of both fascination and guarded curiosity. The candles in her chamber were put out before she went to bed, but the window had been nudged open upon this visit, and there was nothing that could hide in the ashen moonlight.

In her eyes there was a volatile and striking beauty to the visitor, even though his boyish face exhibited a playfulness that could easily be transformed into casual malice. His woolen clothes were soiled and disheveled, but his eyes shone like lamps made of crimson stone. He carried with him the pristine smell of Himalayan snow, and she fancied him to be a wanderer from the other side of the great mountains. That thought ignited a flicker of excitement in her—she could make princes and peasants alike cower with either a smile or a frown, yet the goddess had never set her foot out of the city of Kathmandu.

“Do you fear me, little one?”

That impudent question rang through the air like a long-lost song. She looked at him and saw only the reflection of herself in his eyes. There was a long silence, but at last she chose to give a reply.

“I am Taleju Bhawani, the face of Black Durga, I have seen princes and their gods passing through before me, and I have been unmoved.”

The visitor nodded as if giving approval. Standing up in a slow and deliberate motion, he proceeded to give a gracious bow.

“And I am Zelman Clock, the first and the last of the Ashuras.”

He stepped up to the bed, looking down at her and tilting his head just a little. Red hair spilled over his forehead and some strands fell into his eyes, but he did not bother to remove them. She saw his lips curling into a small smile and had the urge to touch that white face.

“I have always wondered how a goddess would look,” inching in even closer, the visitor murmured out aloud. It was such a sweet, melancholy confession, full of autumn’s lethargy and spring’s innocence. He closed his eyes then opened them once more, his voice now as soft and cold as the Himalayan snow in his breath.

“I will ask again: Do you still have no fear?”

Ah, but of course she did not.

*

One night fifty years ago, in another world known as the Kathmandu Valley, the living goddess Taleju Bhawani vacated from the sitting kumari’s body.

When the first light of morning found her, the kumari was pale and nearly delirious as if entangled by an endless dream. She had evidently suffered a great blood loss, not from entering womanhood but from a mysterious mark on her porcelain neck. The attendants fell upon their knees in the presence of their bloodied fallen deity, then kissed her brocade-covered feet for the last time to awaken her to the human world.

From that day on the former kumari reverted back to Ekani, a common girl of the Shakya caste in this ancient Southern Asian kingdom. She returned to her family as if her life had never been interrupted, although it had been years before her brother had the chance to gaze upon her face in reverence. She hadn’t even met her eight-year-old sister, having only blessed her expecting mother in an audience.

It had been too long since she had lived as a mortal.

At the same time, from afar came the tidings of war. The narrow stone streets of Kathmandu were abuzz with the talks of terrible battles, of fantastical monsters wrecking destruction as if they were the children of Durga. Ekani and her family paid scant attention to such matters, however. They were too occupied with the mundane day to day tasks that seemed never-ending. In between learning to cook and doing other household chores, her life in Durbar Square was like a dream already so far away, even though it would not fade for as long as she would live.

Or so she had thought.

A few years after her return to the mortal world, the girl Ekani Shakya was brought to England by a certain eccentric scholar of religion. It was in that mystical occidental country where she met her match in a Japanese graduate student, and after a long courtship she was brought to Tokyo—yet once more, a stranger in a strange land.

But even that was long ago. So long that she could not recall the light in her future husband’s eyes when he read Shelley and Keats to her.

*

Yet half a century later she came face to face with him again, the Ashura Blood child. Just as so long ago his white fangs sealed a goddess’ passing in a balmy late spring night, here and now, in those eyes she confronted irrefutable proof of her own mortality.

The old lady held her hand up over her heart and felt it beating.

Her hair was heavily streaked with silver now, and her once ivory-toned skin had turned sallow like a withered lotus leaf. Her name, her tongue, and even her entire world—all that had been changed. Ekani Shakya had since vanished just as the kumari before her, leaving only Mrs. Hojo Taeko standing here, an old little Japanese lady with a taste for sumi-e and a love for American ice coffee. She had survived it all—from the firebombing of Osaka to giving birth to a stillborn child, not the least of which was being a goddess—but this she had not been prepared for.

“It has been such a long time.”

She spoke softly but directly, in the standard Tokyo tongue.

The god before her seemed startled in just the slightest. He must have been used to humans staring at him in awe and enthrallment, but perhaps he did not expect them to be quite so bold, let alone speaking with the air of an old acquaintance.

With a small smile she searched for something in those crimson eyes, even though she herself did not know what she was looking for. A flicker of recognition? Impossible. Gods choose to not remember mortals, and they are bound to only their own will. She knew this because, once upon a time, she was one of them too.

Yet for a spilt moment, she could smell the incense-filled air of Kumari Ghar again. It was oddly comforting and intoxicating at the same time. Could it be that the very same scent lingers in that world still, after all these years?

She smiled and gave a proper bow. It was a graceful gesture.

“Welcome to the Special Economic Zone, Zelman Clock-sama.”

*

[Finis]

Postscript:

While writing this story, at first I was captivated by the idea of “a goddess reverting back to a mortal for the kiss of a god”, but eventually I realized that my attachment to this tale is not the quasi-philosophical immortal/mortal dichotomy, but rather the theme of identity transformation/annihilation. As an émigré, it is a topic close to my heart.

This story is dedicated to my friend Gezi, for general fangirling over Zelman Clock and feeding various Zelman-related plot bunnies with me. It’s always a fun ride with ya, lass!

Lastly, this story is written as a memento for my time spent in Japan—and how one afternoon, I gave the seagulls in Yokohama harbor a run for their money. ^_^

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